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Reflections: General Conference
Place my finger on just one particularly defining moment of the October 2011 General Conference? I'd call that a difficult task.
Particular phrases stand out to me, as I review the five sessions I was privileged to see Saturday and Sunday, October 1 and 2.
L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder Alonso of the Seventy and Elders Boyd K. Packer and Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles all delivered messages that carried particular import to me.
I was impressed with the conviction of L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy in the first session of conference on Saturday. After speaking of the prophecy in Daniel 2 of a stone cut of a mountain and rolling forth to fill the earth, he added that a particular prophecy from Joseph Smith was much the same when this prophet of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ made a statement that Elder Clayton said "might have seemed laughable" when it was expressed at an 1834 priesthood meeting near Kirtland, Ohio. The Prophet said that while he had been edified by the testimonies of the brethren in Kirtland, he thought that the men knew "no more conerning the destinities of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother's lap."
- "It is only a little handfull of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America-- it will fill the world," the Prophet said at the time.
Critiquing the promises contained in both the Old Testament and to Joseph, Elder Clayton shared a powerful testimony of the validity of each:
- "The little band of believers, eking out a living on the American frontier and moving to escape persecution, didn’t look like the foundation of a faith that would cross international borders and penetrate hearts everywhere. But that is just what has happened," Elder Clayton said. "This work of the Lord is indeed great and marvelous, but it moves forward essentially unnoticed by many of mankind’s political, cultural, and academic leaders. It progresses one heart and one family at a time, silently and unobtrusively, its sacred message blessing people everywhere."
I appreciated Elder Clayton's example to support his statement. He mentioned Elder Melvin J. Ballard's Christmas Day 1925 dedication of the the entire continent of South America for missionary work, initially leading to a handful of converts being baptized by August 1926. Now, more than 600 stakes and several million church members are found throughout South America.
- "While we watch, the kingdom of God is filling the continent, and the name of Joseph Smith is being published both by us and by his detractors in countries he may never even have heard of during his lifetime," Elder Clayton said, addressing an earlier scripture that he had mentioned about the angel Moroni, the ancient American prophet who both buried the Book of Mormon plates and who revealed them to Joseph Smith, telling the 17-year-old at the time that his name "should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues."
Though Elder Alonso's message at Mormon General Conference wasn't necessarily packed with scriptures concerning the future of Mormonism and its influence on a global level, his message of "doing the right thing at the right time, without delay" was poignant for my own life and associated experiences. Urgent was his message to help others immediately upon understanding their needs. He did a wonderful job at citing the Savior early in his address when he spoke of the Master's ability to demonstrate service and serve His neighbor. I also had to appreciate the personal nature of one of the scripture passages he used, some of the instruction of King Benjamin found in Mosiah 2:17: "when you are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God." This was a reminder of the opportunities I have to serve in my calling in the Church, and as just a man who knows that there are people around me who are struggling spiritually, physically or emotionally. I have promised the Lord that I will make greater strides to lift some of His children, as I feel prompted, and as I recognize help to be given or invitations to be extended concerning giving them an opportunity to serve or to learn more about the Savior and His gospel.
In addressing youth, President Packer was keen to remind most of those he was addressing of his authority to be able to speak with them, outside of his priesthood calling as a member of the Twelve.
- "I have been where you are and know where you are going. But you have not yet been where I am," President Packer said. "With all that is going on in the world, with the lowering of moral standards, you young people are being raised in enemy territory."
President Packer did well in demonstrating his point in drawing a parallel to an old poem-- "Not Wordsworth but classic poetry nonetheless," he said-- that discusses an old crow that grows slower but still can fly above and circle the young crow because of what he has learned. "What does the fast young crow not know? Where to go." read the poem.
He reminded the youth of the true promises contained in their patriarchal blessing, a document understood to be a revealed life-map from a spiritually-senior, ordained leader in the Church, who in turn has received the information through revelation from God. I liked his contrast to the lives of Laman and Lemuel, two wayward young men early in the Book of Mormon, who were "past feeling" in recognizing promptings of the Holy Spirit. They complained about helping their brother, Nephi, build a ship in order to complete the monumental task in God's eternal plan for the family of their father, Lehi, to leave Jerusalem and come across the waters to the ancient Americas.
Not backing down from comments he made in the April 2011 Mormon General Conference about how homosexuality is a sin that cannot be re-defined by voting in the public forum-- comments that drew ire from the lesbian, transgender and gay communities-- President Packer re-iterated that gender was established in the pre-existence and that "God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between a man and woman" in a legal marriage, a mandate that must be in place so that righteous spirits in the pre-existence can come into the world and obtain bodies, unlike Lucifer and his followers.
I also loved that President Packer reminded his audience of where they can ultimately be led in truth:
- "If you know anything at all about spiritual communication, you know that a [spiritual] feeling is more than anything else to be desired," he said. "Listen to the voice of the Spirit and you will not be led astray."
Elder Andersen was equally bold when he declared that "true saints of God, acting in faith, have never disregarded or neglected God's commandment to multiply and replenish the earth," before adding that Latter-day Saints or children of Father in Heaven should never judge one another on a husband and wife's decision about when to have children and how many to bear. I appreciated his scriptural examples of married couples who were left to have children in faith, including Adam and Eve once they fell from the Garden of Eden, Lehi and Sariah of the Book of Mormon in bearing Jacob and Joseph and the fact that Moses was hid from the pharoah of Egypt at that time because his mother, Jochebed, bore him in travail.
- "We cannot always explain the difficulties of our mortality," Elder Andersen said. "Sometimes it’s hard especially because we want to do what the Lord has commanded. Those not able to have children in this life will in eternities as they keep the promises they made with God."
That was indeed the overall message of the conference, as it always is-- to be true to our promises, or covenants, with God as His people did in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I am grateful for the various levels and aspects of instruction that these great leaders provided this past October as the societies of the world continue to draw further from the statutes given by the Lord "to all generations" (Psalm 33:11), including our day in the modern Church of Jesus Christ.
Rhett is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), a Utah State University athletics correspondent for the Ogden Standard-Examiner, and serves on the editorial staff at the Utah Statesman.